‘The Umbrella Academy’: Justin H. Min Won’t Explain How Ben Died (but Will Talk About That Finale)

     August 8, 2020

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 2 finale of The Umbrella Academy, “The End of Something.”]

When it comes to the Umbrella Academy, just because you’ve stopped the apocalypse, it doesn’t mean that you’ve actually saved the world. Jumping time and finding themselves scattered in and around Dallas, Texas, over a three-year period starting in 1960, has disrupted the timeline and started a doomsday clock. As they work to reunite, figure out what caused the nuclear destruction, find a way to put a stop to it, and return to their present timeline, they must survive assassins, romantic relationships, and a number of other oddities, if they’re going to rebuild their family and make it out alive.

Justin H. Min, who plays Ben (the dead member of the Hargreeves family that has only appeared through Klaus’ conjuring of him), recently got on the phone with Collider to chat all things Season 2 of the Netflix original series The Umbrella Academy, adapted from the graphic novels by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. During this 1-on-1 interview, he talked about building on the first season, how much he knows about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Ben’s death, what he thought of his character arc in Season 2, the Klaus-Ben dynamic, his reaction to the shocking surprise ending, and what he’s looking forward to with a possible Season 3.

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Image via Netflix

COLLIDER: What did you most enjoy about doing the first season of this and exploring the introduction of this world, and then how did it feel to return to it and build on that, for the second season?

JUSTIN H. MIN: It was really exciting for me. I didn’t have a series regular contract like the rest of the other siblings, at the time, so at the end of the first season, I wasn’t really sure what the state of Ben would be, if he would come back, or to what extent. So, when [showrunner Steve Blackman] called me up and said that they wanted to bring me back as a full-time player and continue to expand upon Ben’s storyline, I was overjoyed. In Season 1, Ben is a tag-along to Klaus because of his powers and being tethered to him, so it was really nice to be able to explore Ben’s independence and agency this season, and his own single character. As Klaus’ powers begin to grow and evolve, Ben has the ability now to possess Klaus. So, it was just really, really fun and exciting to be able to play with those things, as an actor. There’s always some nerves, coming back to a second season of a show ‘cause you don’t know if you remember how to play the character or what the dynamics are, but I vividly remember the first day back on set, I put on the leather jacket and the boots, and I had my first line with Mr. Sheehan, and it was like riding a bike. It was like no time had elapsed. We locked right back into each other, and it was great.

Were you ever told exactly how Ben originally died other than just it being on a mission? Were you given more details, as to exactly what originally happened to him?

MIN: Oh, Christina, you know I can’t tell you that.

I’m not asking you to tell me what those details are. I’m just asking if you know.

MIN: I know some stuff. That’s all I’m able to say, or I’ll be sent to Netflix jail. I will say that I appreciate the ambiguity and the mystery behind it. You get into that in Season 2, particularly with the flashback in the last episode, but from a storytelling and writing point of view, it allows them way more freedom when they keep it ambiguous and a little more mysterious. There are so many things to continue to explore with the death because it’s one of the main instances for why the family split apart, in the first place. I think it allows them the freedom to lean into how that plays out in the sibling dynamics and relationship. I, for one, am glad that they continue to keep it a bit of a mystery, although I know the fans are really craving concrete clear answers.

I was just curious about whether that was intentionally mysterious.

MIN: It’s very intentional. It’s very, very, very intentional. We needed some sort of throughline for Ben’s arc, in the first two seasons. If we didn’t at least have hints of how he had died and under what circumstances, it wouldn’t really have made a lot of sense, so we’ve definitely discussed it. I don’t even have all of the clear answers myself. I’m sure Steve, and maybe Gerard [Way] know, but I have crumbs.

Your character has the biggest surprise ending of the season. When did you learn about how things would wrap up and where that would leave your character, and what was your reaction to that?

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Image via Netflix

MIN: As with most things on this show, I didn’t know anything. I was kept in the dark, all season long, no pun intended. When I shot that final scene with Ellen Page and Vanya in Episode 9, I actually thought that was my final scene on the show. It was quite an emotional scene because Ben is saying goodbye to his family, but Justin, as the actor, I felt like I was saying goodbye to the show, as well, and my actual crew family that I’ve grown to love and care for, for the past six months, and even some of our continuing crew members, for the last two years. We’d received the draft of Episode 10, at that point, when I shot that scene with Ellen, but the last three pages had been omitted, so none of us knew. And then, a few weeks after that, I got a ping on my phone, for a top-secret email from Steve Blackman, who had just emailed the seven Hargreeves children and said, “Here’s the last scene. Hope you enjoy it.” I remember it vividly. It feels like yesterday. It was 8:48 pm in my Toronto apartment, and I read it and just started screaming at the top of my lungs in there. I was completely shocked and flabbergasted and gobsmacked and overjoyed, to be allowed to come back and be a part of this show, especially if we get renewed for another season.

It’s certainly quite a journey to go from what’s referred to as a ghost bitch to the leader of everything.

MIN: I love that character arc. I’m gonna use that.

Are there things that you’re personally looking forward to, as far as another season would go, in getting to see how that shift will be, especially when we haven’t ever gotten to see this side of the character before?

MIN: Yeah. Honestly, I think I’m the luckiest cast member. In Season 1, I didn’t have to deal with any of the pressures that all of my other cast members had to deal with, with bringing these iconic, beloved comic book characters to life. There was so much pressure for all of them. My character is not in the comic books, at all, so I had free reign to build Ghost Ben from the ground up, and do whatever I wanted to with him.

And then, here we are, at the end of Season 2, and I literally get to do it, all over again, with another character who’s brand new and that I get to build, from the ground up. How many times does an actor get to play two completely different characters, on the same show? Even from his appearance to the scar on his face to his hair, we wanted Sparrow Academy Ben to feel completely different from Ghost Ben. I even grew out what I could of my incredible mustache, so he could seem a bit rougher. We had about 20 iterations of that hair that we were experimenting with. We just really wanted to make it messier and longer, and there’s even a couple of blue streaks. In that lighting, I don’t think you can really see it, but hopefully, you’ll be able to see that better, in a next season.

I’m so excited. As an actor, these are the most fun things to play, when it’s a bit of a stretch from yourself. Ghost Ben, in a lot of ways, feels very comfortable for me. Those are the types of characters that I’m good at playing because they are, to a certain extent, similar to my essence, as a person. But Sparrow Academy Ben is completely not that. I’m so excited for that challenge and to get to do what I can with that character.

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Image via Netflix

Do you start to come up with any of your own theories, as to who these shadowed members of the Academy are?

MIN: Oh, absolutely! Let’s talk about that green floating cube. There’s a lot going on, in that last scene. Even daddy, Reggie Hargreeves, feels very different with his demeanor. I’m very curious to explore that relationship and see what that leads to. It just set up for an amazing potential Season 3 because it will really be the first time where the Umbrella Academy is facing themselves, almost, or a version of themselves. The last two seasons, the antagonists have been these assassin type people, and no one really with supernatural abilities, except Lila. But now, they’re facing an exact replica of themselves, in the Sparrow Academy, so it sets itself up for something really exciting.

I love the relationship between Ben and Klaus. There’s such an interesting dynamic between them because they couldn’t be more different, and yet they’ve been stuck with each other. What have you most enjoyed about not only playing that dynamic, but exploring it with Robert Sheehan?

MIN: We’re yin and yang. We’re two peas in a pod. I truly genuinely see him as my brother from another mother, and I love him. We fight and we bicker, but at the end of the day, we love each other. In terms of working with Robert Sheehan, especially coming back for the second season, there’s such a level of trust there between us. It’s like riding a bike. You just get right back into it. He’s given me so much more confidence in my own improvisational abilities. In Season 1, I was so scared to improv because I had not really done that a lot, in my acting career, but with Robert, that’s his bread and butter. He’s doing that, all the time. I would just watch in awe of him, in Season 1, as he would do that, time and time again, in our scenes, and just find these really interesting, bold, beautiful choices. And I came back to Season 2 ready to play with him. As I said, there’s a level of trust there. So much of our stuff this season, was through the result of just playing tennis, back and forth, and discovering moments, and improvising with each other. It’s just such a blast to work with him. It’s gonna be really weird and sad to not be in every scene with him, in a potential Season 3.

The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is available to stream at Netflix.

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.

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